Farmers key to solving UK’s wider social issues

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ON THE eve of the first big farming conference in 2013, a study has revealed that Britain’s farmers hold the key to unlocking the solutions to some of the country’s bigger problems – such as mass water storage, flood defence and even social care of those in need.

The report, commissioned by the Oxford Farming Conference, reflects on the wider contributions UK agriculture makes to society beyond the usual measures of GDP and food production.

“Farming’s contribution is much, much greater than you might think,” explained Mike Gooding, the conference’s 2013 chairman.

“Our farmers have the skills and geographical reach to address some of society’s fundamental challenges such as health, well-being and self- sustaining communities.

“But turning that opportunity in to reality requires a better connection between wider society and farmers, and it is a two-way process.

“The statistics in our study are staggering, for example, UK farmland biodiversity is ‘valued’ at £938 million; people are prepared to pay an extra £2,000 annually to live in a house close to high-nature areas, and health – as well as happiness – has been proven to improve with access to farmland and nature.”

Gooding said that the primary objective of the study was to uncover some of farming’s less recognised social benefits – especially those beyond the well-rehearsed issues of environment and animal welfare.

Commenting on the report, the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who will address the conference later today, said: “Farming contributes much more to our society than the crucial role of putting safe, nutritious food on our tables.

“The industry is worth £95 billion a year to the economy – thanks to growing demand abroad for our produce and our expertise.

“The market rewards that, but it doesn’t reward farming’s role as one of the principal custodians of our rural landscape and wildlife.

“Farmers play a crucial role, which is why I’m looking at new ways to reward them for the great public good they deliver.”